Counsel Moves to Block Depositions in Bias Lawsuit

Posted January 21, 2004 at 4:58pm

The Senate’s chief counsel for employment office is seeking to halt depositions of several Senate employees, plus former Sergeant-at-Arms Alfonso Lenhardt, in conjunction with a racial discrimination lawsuit now pending in federal court.

Senate attorneys filed the motion Jan. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in response to plaintiff Roy Banks’ “motion to compel.” Attorneys for Banks, a former Sergeant-at-Arms staffer, submitted the motion, in part, seeking to prohibit the employment counsel from representing rank-and-file Sergeant-at-Arms employees.

Jean Manning and Brenda Pence, attorneys who represent the Sergeant-at-Arms, have requested an expedited opinion from Judge Henry Kennedy on the motion to compel, or, alternately, that the depositions, including Lenhardt’s, be delayed until after Kennedy issues a ruling.

“The Motion to Compel includes a request to disqualify defense counsel from representing SAA managers and that Plaintiff be permitted to conduct discovery regarding communications between defense counsel and SAA managers, including communications regarding the preparation of SAA managers for deposition,” their Jan. 14 motion states. Depositions of three Sergeant-at-Arms managers and Lenhardt are scheduled to begin today and end Jan. 27.

“Absent an expedited ruling on the Motion to Compel, Defendant, its managers, and defense counsel are placed in the untenable position of proceeding with a representation that the Court ultimately might determine is unlawful or is not protected by the attorney-client relationship,” the motion continues.

The depositions were scheduled at the request of attorneys for Banks, who filed three separate lawsuits against the Sergeant-at-Arms office between January and October 2003. Lenhardt served as Sergeant-at-Arms until March 2003.

In the lawsuits, which are being heard as a single case, Banks alleges he faced discrimination based on race, age, gender and disability that led to his dismissal in April 2002.

“Mr. Banks applied for a [higher] position. … When he didn’t get the job they started to force him out,” attorney William Farley said in a recent telephone interview.

“He believes it was based on his race because he did have the experience, he’d been there for 10 years,” Farley added. Banks, who is black, had served as the facilities management assistant branch manager.

Manning declined to comment through an assistant, stating that the lawsuit is ongoing. In court documents, however, Senate attorneys have sought to have the lawsuits dismissed.

“Even if Plaintiff can prove that his race played a substantial role in the adverse employment actions of which he complains, the SAA’s liability is limited as it would have taken the same action even if it had not considered any illegitimate factor,” states a response filed in March 2003.

In court documents, Banks asserts he faced a range of discrimination: “Plaintiff has been denied equipment, staff support, supervisory support, and has been given poor work assignments, and has been subjected to intimidation and retaliation by defendant for unlawful discriminatory reasons.”

Among his complaints, Banks states he was forced to perform manual labor, including removing furniture from an Alexandria, Va., warehouse in October 2002, and suffered injuries as a result of the work. He was later denied workers’ compensation for his injuries.

“Defendant purposely delayed submitting Mr. Banks’ claims to Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and manipulated the adjudication process by filing false witness reports and marking his claims for ‘special handling,’” court documents state. His attorneys claim that such work was outside of Banks’ job responsibilities and that other employees were not required to perform similar work.

Banks also alleges that after he filed an administrative complaint in mid-2002 about the office’s promotion policy and practices, his superiors threatened to dismiss him and “provided the lowest [employment] evaluations of his career.”

The discovery phase for the lawsuit is scheduled to close Feb. 17, at which time Kennedy could issue a summary judgment. A pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for June.